How reading can save society

An excerpt follows from a 3 July 2022 Stuff article 'How books rescued Kate De Goldi, and how reading can save society', available here:

But the fortunate childhood De Goldi enjoyed, surrounded by books and words, is one that's slowly disappearing for many children. De Goldi points to statistics about the decline in children's reading rates, the fact more than half of teenagers say reading isn't important to them, the fact 40% of New Zealanders have literacy issues. ”I'm eternally sunny by nature,” says De Goldi, ”but it’s a fact – there's a reading crisis in New Zealand.”

She blames greater socio-economic gaps, children not having books in their homes, parents working two jobs and being too tired to read to their children, teachers reading less themselves. “And the big elephant in the room is screens. They’re undoubtedly an issue. They’re exactly as they are in adults’ lives – hell of a useful in all sorts of ways, but also addictive and too present, and they become an alternative to reading. There’s so much competing for children’s attention in terms of leisure activities.”

De Goldi says reading is being pushed out of children’s lives and learning, but the immersion in story and language that books give, can’t be found anywhere else. “We’ve got a less literate, less competent generation coming up.” She rejects suggestions she’s clinging to an antiquated view of education, obsessed by some bygone bookish romanticism.

“There’s just overwhelming evidence now that it’s not good if you don’t have a solid reading basis in your life, in your family life, in your community life. We know from overseas research that reading is one of the major ways of jumping people out of poverty – that’s how powerful it is. If you’ve been a lifelong reader, you’re more curious, you have an education, you get better jobs – it’s that simple.”

De Goldi repeats philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s quote: “The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” And if nothing changes, De Goldi says the result will be “people not being able to think. The logical end is people not understanding fake news. So reading to your child is arming them for life.”

Ben Brown, the National Library’s Te Awhi Rito New Zealand Reading Ambassador, says if parents don’t read to their children, they’re putting them at risk of severe disadvantage for the rest of their lives. “It doesn’t have to be long, and it’s not a lesson. Everybody’s got 10 minutes in their life they can give away.”

Posted: Tuesday 5 July 2022